Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Wolf Man (1941)

Having recently seen The Wolf Man remake and having not properly reviewed it (it was good bloody fun) I thought it would be a good idea to watch the original. And, so, I did watch it. It's certainly one of the more interesting of the classic Universal horror pictures out there. To be fair, I've only seen (off the top of my head) Creature From The Black Lagoon, Frankenstein, and The Bride of Frankenstein. Bride was, and still is, the best of that lot.

Lon Chaney jr stars as Lawrence Talbot who returns home to his families estate after the mysterious death of his brother. Claude Rains plays his father. Some broad plays Talbot's love interest. Also, there are gypsies (some old broad and Bela Lugosi). Talbot's love interest sells him a walking stick. There's tension between father and son. Not much happens for a little while. Good set-bound atmosphere; matte paintings, fog machines, fake trees, etc. One night, Lugosi turns into a wolf and attacks some dame. Talbot fights it off with his stick which, incidentally, is made of silver and eventually kills it. Not before he's been bitten. With the bite comes a curse, the old gypsy recites a poem, something about the mark of a pentagram, people think Talbot's crazy, he turns into a wolf, maybe kills someone, Talbot gets depressed, etc, etc.

I loved this picture but let's be honest here. It ain't perfect. First of all, Chaney (perhaps due to his rampant alcoholism) looks about ten years older than Claude Rains. It's not a deal breaker, but their differing appearences stand out like a sore paw. Second of all, why is it that (in these old pictures) the guy changing into a wolf always seems to change feet first? What's with the feet? Sure, maybe the transformation effects are great for their time, but couldn't they at least have started with the face...or maybe the midsection?

Minor quibbles aside, the character of Lawrence Talbot is a good one. At first, he looks for ways to cure his curse but then he just sorta settles for wanting to die. This shit is more tragic than the misunderstood monster from Frankenstein. Talbot's a bit like the incredible hulk. Once transformed, his humanity takes a back seat to his instinct and also his snapping jaws. Instead of foiling criminal masterminds, he rips out jugulars. Unfortunately, learning to control the wolf part is not really an option. Only thing he can do is bite his girlfriend and then maybe they can have some adult wolf fun during the next full moon. That doesn't happen.

One more quibble. If you have a silver walking stick you shouldn't really fear walking around the English moors during a full moon. Hit the beast once and it goes down. Keep at it and he's dead within a minute or two. Why is it so easy? I can understand the whole silver bullet concept. Bullet pierces the skin, hits an organ, infects the blood stream. That's pretty understandable. Beating the thing with a silver walking stick? Not the same thing. Maybe it stings a bit, causes a welt, some bruises. I don't know. Is it like kryptonite? I guess that would make more sense. I guess we could kill Superman with a kryptonite walking stick? Just hit him a few times? Whatever. Regardless, The Wolf Man is a great movie.


elmo said...

This reminds me that I haven't Wolf with Nicholson since I was a kid.

brian said...

I could never get past the idea of Nicholson getting bitten by a wolf while driving through Vermont! I have a feeling if I watched Wolf again I'd find it a bit underrated.